Pataki aide was target of probe
Thursday, July 22, 1999
By TOM HAYS
The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- When John Jhang spread the word he would do anything to get his son out of prison, he says a top campaign aide to Gov. George Pataki offered help -- for a price.
Jhang claimed the aide, Patrick Donohue, guaranteed the son -- a convicted member of a violent Korean youth gang -- would be paroled from state prison early if the father contributed to Pataki's 1994 campaign. Jhang wrote checks totaling more than $20,000 to Pataki's winning effort, but his son was never released, prompting him to go to authorities.
Jhang's accusations sparked a federal investigation into possible influence-peddling at the state Board of Parole. Details of the secret grand jury probe surfaced for the first time this week when a prosecutor testifying at the Brooklyn trial of a parole board member identified Donohue and a Pataki backer, Korean-American businessman Yung Soo Yoo, as targets of the investigation.
No one close to Pataki, including Donohue, the governor's current campaign finance director, has been charged. The administration also has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, noting that the donations in question were refunded.
But testimony and evidence at the trial in Brooklyn federal court shows that Pataki's New York City staff contacted the Parole Board about Jhang's son, James, and two other Korean inmates convicted of violent crimes, John Kim and Boyoung Chung, after their families made sizable campaign contributions.
Investigator George Slater testified Tuesday that Chung's mother, Incha, told him that she -- like John Jhang -- had met Donohue through Yoo.
Slater said Incha Chung claimed that she and Donohue discussed her son's situation at a dinner, and that he "promised that the son would be released if donations were made."
The evidence includes memos showing that Donohue contacted the head of Pataki's New York City office, Jeff Wiesenfeld, about the three inmates. Wiesenfeld in turn wrote to parole board Chairman Brion Travis about them, and even urged him to consider work release for Kim, the papers show.
Donohue's attorney, Tom Puccio, refused comment. Wiesenfeld did not immediately respond to a phone message.
Prosecutors also have introduced a photo of Pataki posing with Incha Chung at a post-election victory party in Queens as proof she had access to the governor through the family's $9,500 in donations.
Slater testified that Incha Chung told him that she whispered to Pataki, "I'm Boyoung Chung's mother. I'm waiting for news."
The governor responded by saying he didn't know what she was talking about and walked away, she said.
Incha Chung's son, who pleaded guilty to attempted murder of a rival gang member in 1991, was not paroled. But Kim, 24, after serving the minimum sentence for three armed robberies in Queens, was released after a 1996 parole hearing over the objections of state prosecutors.
Investigators say when they tried to question parole board member Sean McSherry, who presided over Kim's hearing, about why he voted for the inmate's release, he claimed he couldn't remember the case, but later told a conflicting story to the grand jury.
McSherry faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements. He has been on leave from his $76,421-a-year post since last September.
Copyright © 1999 Bergen Record Corp.